I answered a question and just after commenting "Yep that seems to be working! Thank you so much!" the question author deleted the question (and, thus, my answer).

Is this behavior considered appropriate on SO?

Shouldn't it be discouraged?

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    I'm waiting for this question to be deleted now that it has several answers. – Servy Oct 23 '13 at 2:01
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    It's homework season and there's been a rash of people doing this lately. Yesterday someone unaccepted an answer. Then they asked someone to delete their answer which had several upvotes, just so they could delete their question. – dcaswell Oct 23 '13 at 2:07
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    @dcaswell Some of those are people trying to remove the public record of their academic misconduct so that the teacher cannot find out about it, not so much that they're just being rash. – Servy Oct 23 '13 at 2:19
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    @Servy: dcaswell didn't say they were being rash, he said there was a "rash of" people doing it, using the second definition of rash "An outbreak of many instances within a brief period: a rash of burglaries." – David Robinson Oct 23 '13 at 4:35

Having had this happen to me recently too, I've been pondering some possible solutions.

It's already the case that questions with upvoted answers cannot be unilaterally deleted by the questioner (see here). So, if a question is around long enough for any decent answers to accumulate some upvotes, the problem goes away.

As such, I would propose preventing new users (say < 50 rep) from unilaterally deleting questions less than (say) 24 hours old, if they have any answers at all (upvoted or otherwise). This would give a grace period for decent answers to get the attention they deserve. If after 24 hours there still are no decent answers (none with > 0 net votes), the OP is free to delete their question as is currently the practice.

An alternative proposed by Jonathon Hobbs (see the comments) would be to make the 24 hour period begin when the first answer is posted to the question (or, possibly, when each answer is posted). This would better protect the answers (rather than the question) for at least 24 hours, and would give the question asker an "opt-out" for as long as no answers are forthcoming.

To allow edge cases to be handled, the questioner should still be able to flag their question in those first 24 hours, to request moderator deletion.

Note that these changes should only apply specifically to the original poster of the question - the closure/deletion process for other members of the community must be left unchanged in order to allow community moderation to remain effective.

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  • As long as the community could still vote to close (and/or delete) the question in the meantime (as in before any up-voted answers exist), I'd be okay with this. The problem now is going to be (a) convincing the dev team that this is a widespread enough problem to do anything about and (b) that this solution would have the desired effect. – Aaron Bertrand Oct 23 '13 at 2:26
  • @AaronBertrand: absolutely - my only concern is for new users being able to unilaterally delete their own questions. The community closure/deletion process is fine as it is. As for convincing the dev team, it really doesn't seem like it would involve much effort to implement - simply alter the delete link show/hide logic to hide if user is question owner && user_rep < 50 && question_age < 24 hrs and answer_count > 0 – Mac Oct 23 '13 at 2:34
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    The level of effort is hardly ever anywhere near the top of the list when the dev team is deciding whether to change the behavior and policies of the site. – Aaron Bertrand Oct 23 '13 at 2:36
  • @AaronBertrand: that's fair enough. Oh well, I guess we can only hope. – Mac Oct 23 '13 at 3:35
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    It may be more prudent to stop them from deleting the question for 24 hours after the first answer. That way, protection is extended for the first answer submitted a day late. – doppelgreener Oct 23 '13 at 4:46
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    Or a possibility to more thoroughly extend that protection: any time an answer is provided, and there is not yet a positively-scored answer, the question can't be deleted for 24 hours. Once any answer is positively scored, new answers won't activate this protection. – doppelgreener Oct 23 '13 at 4:49
  • @Jonathan: You make a good point. I think your first suggestion would be adequate, but the second way is probably fairer for people answering the question late. The only catch is that the logic might become a bit trickier - for example, what happens if an answer is posted for 25 hours without an upvote, then another answer is posted? Does a new 24-hour period begin, or has the protection lapsed altogether since the original period expired an hour previously? – Mac Oct 23 '13 at 7:25
  • @Mac For the second protection option I put forward: a new 24-hour period begins. Repeat each time a new answer is posted, until one of them earns a positive score. For the first protection option: the original period has ended, no protection extends to this second answer, even if the first one was crap and this one is the helpful one. – doppelgreener Oct 23 '13 at 7:37
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The only built in method of preventing this is that if users are repeatedly deleting their questions shortly after posting them then they're likely to be question banned after a handful of deleted questions. This is one of the specific behaviors that the question ban is designed to prevent.

You can also flag such a question for moderator attention and ask that it be undeleted, if you happen to get a link to such a question. They can disassociate it from the user if that user really doesn't want the question associated with them.

A further defense against users just deleting their questions when they don't need them anymore, in the event that they have valuable content, is the fact that an author cannot delete their question if it has an answer with a positive score.

That said, looking at this question, it's just a typo question; it's not likely to be helpful for future visitors, so it's probably not actually a bad thing for it to be deleted. If it was something that could actually help anyone else I'd be much more concerned.

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    +1 about the quality. I didn't even look at the content, just that there was a question, an answer, a thank you, and an immediate delete. For the thousands and thousands of typo questions that remain alive and well, seems unfair to me that this person can just rip the rug out like that. – Aaron Bertrand Oct 23 '13 at 2:04
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    @AaronBertrand There are also a lot of deleted typo questions though as well. The general consensus is that they should be deleted, if they're not in a situation that's likely to be helpful to future readers. At the end of the day it's not about an answerer getting rep, it's about creating a repository of knowledge useful to a wide audience. If this would help that, deleting it is bad, if it wouldn't, deleting it is good. – Servy Oct 23 '13 at 2:05
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    But a side effect of an answerer getting rep is they keep answering questions. If users ask bad questions, lure answerers in, then crap on them, those answerers are going to get frustrated, regardless of the goals of the site. – Aaron Bertrand Oct 23 '13 at 2:07
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    @AaronBertrand If typo questions that are highly localized generally get deleted then yes, people will stop answering them. That a good thing. We don't want our experts investing a lot of time into highly localized questions that aren't of use to anyone else. If people are deleting valuable questions with great content then it's a very significant problem, hence the first three paragraphs of my answer. – Servy Oct 23 '13 at 2:17
  • I don't know if you've noticed, but a lot of people answer a lot of questions without worrying about whether they are typo questions, too localized, very good questions, etc. Maybe that's a bad thing, but I'd rather have them answer both than neither. – Aaron Bertrand Oct 23 '13 at 2:21
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    @AaronBertrand See, it bothers me that people answer questions that are't appropriate for the site and rush to answer them before they're closed/deleted. Even if they aren't personally interested in the site's goals of creating a repository of knowledge, they can be made to care if they know that questions that aren't appropriate for the site won't ever generate rep for them. If there wasn't any problem with people answering questions that don't belong on the site then there wouldn't be a reason to prohibit them to begin with. – Servy Oct 23 '13 at 2:24
  • Not everyone is going to fit your perfect SE user, Servy, sorry. – Aaron Bertrand Oct 23 '13 at 2:25
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    @AaronBertrand I know that, and I never said that they should. What I'm saying is that the site's policies and technical behavior can be designed to encourage behavior that we want to see and to discourage behavior that we don't want to see. This allows the use of the site by imperfect users to still end up with the desirable result. – Servy Oct 23 '13 at 2:27
  • I used the word "typo" to be charitable to the user. The issue there is somewhat more complicated. – sds Oct 23 '13 at 2:44

Seems pretty crappy to me, but I don't know how to prevent it or discourage it, other than pointing it out to a moderator. The person has been here for 4 days, has 1 rep, and has no questions, answers or even comments where you could leave a comment. Even if it is a pattern, it is also difficult for regular users - even trusted users - to find their deleted posts very easily, unless they happen upon them or you alert people to the behavior before they delete their next question.

One thing you could do is check a user's profile before you answer their question. If they've been a member for four days, have one rep, no questions/answers/activity etc., maybe hold off before being the first person to expend a bunch of effort.

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  • what's his id? I want to "black list" him so that I will never answer his questions again. – sds Oct 23 '13 at 1:56
  • @sds I've added a link to the user, but I don't know how you're going to "black list" them, especially if they update their username. – Aaron Bertrand Oct 23 '13 at 1:59
  • @AaronBertrand user script that automatically hides their questions from search/questions lists? – Servy Oct 23 '13 at 2:01
  • @Servy I use this extension but would have called it "unfavorite users." Still, the same user could create a new account over and over again, or already have 50 accounts. – Aaron Bertrand Oct 23 '13 at 2:03

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